Following my visit to Bahrain earlier this week, I would like to send my best wishes for the holy month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is a time for reflection, a time for compassion towards those less fortunate and a time for peace and reconciliation. Echoing the words of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm the UK’s commitment to supporting those in need across the world.
The UK-Bahrain relationship is a long-standing one. We have known each other for nearly 400 years, following the establishment in 1616 of the first East India Company presence in the Gulf. Our first agreement of friendship dates from 1816, and next year we will celebrate the Bicentenary of that.
There is a familiarity between the UK and Bahrain that is rarely matched elsewhere in the region. Relations between our royal families are very close. British nationals in Bahrain have experience of other parts of the region but they say Bahrain is the place where they are made to feel most welcome, most at home. It is genuinely cosmopolitan and multifaith society. And for many Bahrainis, London remains a ‘home from home’; Bahrainis study and work in the UK; they own property and businesses there; they holiday there. I am sure that we will welcome many Bahrainis to the UK after Eid al Fitr.
Following the unrest in Bahrain in early 2011, we welcomed the establishment of the landmark Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and the acceptance of its recommendations by His Majesty King Hamad, recognising that sustainable security and stability could only be achieved by implementation of those ground-breaking recommendations. As a close ally and partner of Bahrain, above all a good friend, the UK decided to play its part by offering to Bahrain our experience of reform and reconciliation, in order to build the capacity and capability necessary for reform. Over 3 years later we are now providing more practical assistance to the Government of Bahrain and its people than any other country and our programme of assistance is the UK’s largest in the region. This work covers everything from police reform to penal reform, from juvenile justice reform to human rights reform, including support to independent oversight bodies such as the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman, the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission and the National Institution for Human Rights. This is still work in progress. We do not claim that everything is perfect. There are still issues which cause us, and indeed the Bahraini authorities, concern. We know from our own painful experience in Northern Ireland that changing attitudes, culture and behaviour take time.
Horrifying events across the region remind us that Bahrain’s interests are our interests. The security concerns of the Bahraini people - and our other Gulf allies - are our security concerns. The signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Foreign Secretary with His Excellency Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the Bahraini Foreign Minister, in the margins of last year’s Manama Dialogue put the long-standing presence of the British Royal Navy in Bahrain on a permanent footing, a clear statement of our commitment to a sustained presence east of Suez for the benefit of regional and international security, a reminder of our historic and close relations with Bahrain, and another example of our growing partnership with Gulf allies to tackle the threats we face together.
My visit earlier in the week demonstrated to me that in the hearts of the Bahraini people there is a strong desire for peace and prosperity for all. With sectarianism, extremism and violence in the region ever-increasing, I truly believe our Bahraini friends can show the region how to live in harmony, embracing diversity and proving peace and reconciliation will win.
Ramadan Kareem to you all!